Tuesday, September 30, 2014

So many miles!

We bought a new car back at the beginning of April. It's now the end of September and we've already hit the 10,000 mile mark on our new ride. And both my wife and I work from home. So I was sort of surprised to see that we ran up the mileage so quickly. But we love to go on road trips, and those miles add up.



Here's just a few of the places our new car has taken us.
  • Deadwood, SD
  • Wall Drug, Wall, SD
  • Sioux Falls, SD
  • Minneapolis, MN
  • Wisconsin Dells, WI
  • Milwaukee, WI
  • St. Louis, MO
  • Indianapolis, IN
  • Tulsa, OK
  • New Buffalo, MI
(On another note, we love our new car. But if the dealer, manufacturer, or some other third party sends us ANY MORE SURVEYS, I'm going to start giving everybody all zeros and F's. There are just too many surveys flung at you after buying a new car. My policy going forward that if you want me to answer your survey, it needs to arrive stapled to a $5 bill.)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Stuff to Explore in Minneapolis

Here's a few things you might want to check out when you're in Minneapolis. (Got others? Please add them in comments and I will update this post.)
  • The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. A beautiful garden park with outdoor art. Much of it modern/abstract. Is not too huge to rue walking around in. Also has a conservatory, so if it's cold out it's wonderful to go inside and warm up while looking at the greenery. If you walk there from a downtown hotel, you'll go through the beautiful Loring Park and across a walking bridge with a poem on it.
  • The Minneapolis Institute of Arts. A wonderful art museum. Worth a visit. In a neighborhood some consider ghetto, but it's not bad and I used to live right by there.
  • The Walker Art Center. Comparable to the MCA in Chicago. Bigger than the MCA, I think.
  • The Mall of America. You go here because you like shopping and it's cold outside and you need christmas presents. If that's not you, avoid. 
  • The Minehaha Falls are beautiful. There's a restaurant there called Sea Salt that is fantastic. (Expect a line. And save this one only for warmer weather.)
  • Drive or bike down to Nicollet Island and look at the cool homes and row houses. It's very small, so it won't take long. Then drive or pedal over to St. Anthony Main and have a beer at Pracna or Aster. Pracna is the oldest still-open bar in Minneapolis.



Some Good Twin Cities Restaurants

Compiled for a friend. Got any others? Leave a comment and I'll add it.

Downtown restaurants/pubs:

  • Bulldog Downtown, 11th and Hennepin. Good place for a burger. Part of a small chain.
  • The Local, 9th and Nicollet. Good Irish Pub. Not my favorite one in the world, because that would be:
  • Kieran's Irish Pub, 6th and Hennepin. Great food, great atmosphere. My favorite Irish pub in the world. (Both the Local and Kieran's are owned by the same guy and the both have good food.)
  • Brit's Pub, 11th and Nicollet. Best scotch eggs in town. Love this place. Go. If it's nice out, they have a huge patio.
  • Vincent, 11th and Nicollet. Great French restaurant. 
  • Barrio Tequila Bar, 9th and Nicollet. I actually haven't been here yet but it comes well recommended, so don't hesitate to check it out.
  • Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant. If you happen to see somebody you like playing there, it's a good venue. Like SPACE in Evanston. However, I find the food to be overrated, so I wouldn't bother going there just for food.
  • King & I Thai. You will see this on maps and the sign is still there, but this place is closed, so don't bother. Which is a bummer, because their food was fantastic.

Eat Street:

  • The Eat Street Area. This is Nicollet Avenue from 25th Street to 28th Street. Great Asian restaurants. Quang for Vietnamese. Rainbow for seafood. Pho 79 for pho noodle soups.
  • Icehouse. 25th and Nicollet. Farm-to-table kind of place. Good vegetarian options (like crispy tofu). Had a great meal here a few months ago.
  • Eat Street Social. 26th and Nicollet. This is one of those places where the have 15 kinds of bitters and it looks like an apothecary behind the bar. Good for fancy cocktails.
Elsewhere:
  • Travail/The Rookery. In Robbinsdale, a north suburb of Minneapolis. Kind of a long haul from downtown. I haven't been here yet, but everybody says it is fantastic and that it is a destination. Map location. North Minneapolis can be a little unsafe if you don't know what you're doing, stick to the highways if you go up that way.
  • French Meadow Bakery. 26th and Lyndale Avenue South. Great breakfast/brunch place. Haven't been for dinner. It looks worth checking out for dinner. Right next to a dive bar called the CC Club, which is a friendly space filled with lots of young people.
  • Bryant Lake Bowl. Lake and Bryant. Was a bowling alley for many years. Has eight lanes hidden in the back, still. Is now a restaurant and also has a performance space. Is unique. A Minneapolis gem.
  • Pazzaluna, in downtown St. Paul. My all time favorite Italian restaurant. Great gnocchi. Great asparagus and chicken pizza. Great almost everything else. Funny bartender (Steve) who tells horribly lame jokes that you'll love.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Interesting Fast Food in Minneapolis

I'm putting together a list of interesting fast food/fast casual restaurants in Minneapolis for a friend. Got one to add? Leave it in comments.

Minneapolis has a few local (or at least "not available in Chicago") restaurant chains that are worth checking out. Here's my favorites:
  1. D'Amico & Sons, multiple locations, including 22nd and Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis. Fantastic pasta salads. Great little pizzas. Great sandwiches. You can get a bottomless glass of wine when you dine in. I go here for pasta salad every time I'm in town.
  2. Punch Pizza, multiple locations. Neapolitan Pizza in 90 seconds. It's sort of Chipotle for individual pizzas. Pick what you want, they cook it in the big oven, and yum.
  3. Brasa. Northeast Minneapolis. It's meat. Rotisserie-cooked meat. A friend introduced us to this place last year. Everything is simply cooked and quite good.
  4. Pizza Luce. Multiple locations including downtown Minneapolis. Gourmet pizza. My favorite pizza place on earth. Try the baked potato pizza. Has a ton of vegetarian and vegan options, including vegan fake cheese. They will deliver to downtown hotels, great option if you're tired after a long day of convention going.
  5. Lee Ann Chin. Multiple locations. Minnesota's own asian restaurant chain. My wife says their food is "objectively terrible," but it's very much comfort food for me, with Chinese food that is at least the same every time and typically better fare than from most of the crappy Chinese places here in Chicago. Also, cream cheese wontons are better than crab rangoon!

Stay tuned for better restaurants and other stuff in another post.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Like Ikea for (Stuff)

I love Ikea, but it's so far away. It takes just over an hour to get there-- yuck. So I don't go very often. Which means I often think, well, where can I get something for almost as cheap as I can get it at Ikea?

So I'm starting a list: Where can I go that's like going to Ikea for ____ ?

Like Ikea for glassware? Dollar Tree has (among other things) wine glasses, beer glasses and martini glasses for one dollar each. Can't beat that. I'm almost waiting for my current stuff to break so I can replace it all with stuff from Dollar Tree.

Like Ikea for an inexpensive sofa? Home Reserve. We have two chairs from Home Reserve and they're great. They are shipped via UPS and you assemble them yourself. The boxes fit through the door easily and it's way easier than dragging a chair or sofa home from Ikea. After our next move, we're going to try buying a sectional from Home Reserve. We've always wanted a sectional, but we were terrified of dealing with moving one-- they're so big, you don't know if they'll fit through hallways, etc. And so expensive! Now that we trust Home Reserve, we know that A. it can be disassembled easily for moving, B. individual covers and cushions can be replaced as needed, and C. we can afford it.

Like Ikea for paper towels or toilet paper? OK, Ikea doesn't carry either of these things, but I'm not going to Wal-mart either, so I am lucky to have a Family Dollar just a couple blocks away that always has paper towel and toilet paper at very reasonable prices. Much cheaper than buying it from Target or the grocery store. I can usually get a giant package of rolls of toilet paper or paper towel for $5.

Like Ikea for kitchen gadgets? That would be Marshalls. They always have a big section of kitchen gadgets and utensils. They also often have dinnerware and glassware sets. The only downside to buying dinnerware from Marshalls is that their stock changes often enough that you aren't going to be able to go back and buy a matching set in six months. If you see it now and want it, you better buy it now.

Like Ikea for bedding? That would be Anna's Linens. It's sort of a smaller, budget version of Bed, Bath and Beyond. Which is a necessity, because it is easy to spend wayyy too much money on sheets and blankets at Bed, Bath and Beyond. We're lucky to have an Anna's Linens right in our neighborhood. If you've never been in one, you should check it out.

Like Ikea for GU10 light bulbs? 
Ikea. Our current apartment has a ton of fixtures that take these annoying, uncommon GU10 light bulbs. The prices vary a lot, but the cheapest place to get them always seems to be Ikea, where they're something like 4 for $6 or $9. They're always more at the hardware store or Home Depot, so there's no good substitute. So I try to stock up, buy a bunch whenever I can get out to Ikea.

Like Ikea for rugs and runners? Family Dollar. Once upon a time, we made a dedicated trip out to Ikea once and loaded up on area rugs for our whole home, all at once. Ikea's prices on rugs make it worth it. But then we got a puppy and then a grumpy, elderly chihuahua. We eventually potty trained the puppy, but the chihuahua still thinks door mats are fair game if we're not paying attention. We cleaned the nice rugs for as long as possible, but eventually they get gross enough that they just have to go. If you're dealing with puppy or elderly dog accidents, Family Dollar's $22 area rugs or $10 accent rugs are lifesavers. They don't look too bad, and when a dog has just totally destroyed one of them, it is easily replaced. I feel bad about treating as these as almost disposable, but you gotta do what you gotta do.

Like Ikea for bed pillows? Family Dollar. Yes, Ikea has nicer bed pillows and a much larger selection, but if you've got guests coming tonight and you can't get out to Ikea, Family Dollar's $4 bed pillow will do in a pinch. If you want to get fancy, you can upgrade to the $6 satin bed pillow. I've been using a $4 one for a while now. It gets a bit misshapen but it gets the job done.

What am I missing? Leave me your thoughts in a comment and I'll update this post with your expert guidance.